Social insect colonies contain multiple phenotypes, i. e. castes, and this caste polyphenism is often linked to sexual dimorphism. Unlike social hymenopterans, both termite sexes are diploid and contribute to helper-type tasks within the colony. Nonetheless, a biased sex ratio is frequently observed in termites, especially in soldiers. To explain this bias in soldier sex ratio, Matsuura (Evol. Ecol. 20: 565-574, 2006) postulated the existence of a size threshold for workers molting into soldiers. Under the influence of sexual size dimorphism (SSD), such a threshold was considered to indirectly favor one sex. We conducted a literature survey of sex ratio among termite soldiers and tested this size-threshold hypothesis using data for 67 termite species from a variety of termite lineages. We demonstrated the existence of a size threshold for individuals molting into soldiers, resulting in the acquisition of soldiers of only one sex in species exhibiting strong SSD. In species exhibiting weak SSD, the size threshold skews the sex ratio of soldiers, but does not necessarily cause the loss of one sex. Finally, we observed a prevalence of single-sex soldiers in the Termitidae, regardless of SSD, suggesting that the ancestral developmental mechanisms that constrain soldier differentiation from one sex are maintained in certain extant species.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science